We don’t need more “diversity” (as we know it)

Posted August 29, 2016 by Emz Chang in Investigated / 1 Comment

We still need more diverse books

We don’t need any more “diversity”. There, I said it. And here’s why.

I’m all about diverse reads and diverse characters. My problem is, currently, diversity is being treated as if it’s a fad. It’s something that is becoming more popular and a label that is selling books. If you’re thinking something along the lines of “Isn’t this a good thing? Doesn’t this mean more diverse characters?”, you are correct. For the most part.

The problem is, because diversity is becoming more of the “in” thing (this is a good thing), a lot of books are being marketed as “diverse” when they really aren’t (this is the bad part). At least, not in my book, they’re not.

I was editing some of my old reviews the other day and it was jarring to see what books I, and other reviewers, considered diverse.

What made a book diverse? One character of color. Or one gay character. Or one character with a disability. ONE. One character. One “supporting” character.

I get that diversity is still a movement in progress. That one character is better than no character. But I just think it’s a little cheap to label a book as diverse when the thing that lets the book carry that label, is one tiny, background character. That just doesn’t feel like diversity to me.

It breaks my heart when I pick up a book because everyone is yelling that “it’s so diverse” and the only diverse character is a random gay kid that appears for two pages. It frustrates me to no end that this is what we’re saying diversity is.

Diversity is more than just the token diverse character. You know, the character that is there to make the book “diverse”. Diversity is more than just something that can be mentioned offhandedly. Diversity is more than just one character.

And even if there are more than one diverse characters, they are often sometimes written poorly. Almost as if John Xu was John Smith in the first draft. Or someone had a light bulb moment and went “OMG, there are too many boys, let’s add a random girl!”.

Now, I’m not saying that all characters of color that have “white” characteristics are just white characters painted a different color. But the ones that are static and flat often seem that way.

And then, there are the characters that were subtly referred to as diverse. When characters aren’t directly referred to as diverse, it’s easy for readers to get confused. When no identifying characteristic is explicitly stated, I just automatically assume that character is your typical white character. Even if he/she was intended to be diverse in some way or had the stereotypical characteristics of a certain minority group.

It’s just sad, because there is so much potential. I see so many diverse characters that start at as John Smith and turn into something else, something more (not there’s anything wrong with John Smith besides the fact he appears too often). I like characters that have “normal” characteristics because they show less educated readers that diverse characters are no different than everyone else. That despite their skin color, beliefs, religion, sexuality, gender, disability, etc, they are humans and not aliens.

Diversity is more than just a word, a label. It is more than just a fad. Diversity is something we need.

As our world becomes more and more diverse, we need more and more diverse reads. Books that’ll show all readers that they are not alone. Books that’ll allow everyone to find themselves in the pages, see themselves in a character. Books that’ll break labels and that’ll educate those who do not have the chance to interact with diverse people on a regular basis.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having a book full of “normal” white characters. Or that diverse characters have to break stereotypes (although, ones that do are a plus). Or that diverse characters have to serve an ulterior motive other than just existing.

What I’m trying to say is that diversity is still something we don’t have a lot of. That just because there are more “diverse” books out there, doesn’t mean that everything is cool and everyone is being accurately represented. It is something we’ve made so much progress on, but still needs a lot of work.

Diversity is something we as a society, as an industry, as an audience, as creators, need to improve on.

For now, I’ll grudgingly take that one diverse character as long as that character has an impact on the story. Because something is better than nothing. But soon, that one character is not going to cut it.

We still need more diverse books.

Emz Chang

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One response to “We don’t need more “diversity” (as we know it)

  1. Ahhh I couldn’t agree more! I hate that diversity has become a fad to some people. Sometimes it’s like authors didn’t even try. I think thoughtlessly added diverse characters is worse than no diversity at all, because it’s pretty much limiting them to their labels. Countless times I’ve seen the sidekick who’s only descriptor is ‘they’re gay’ etc. People are so much more than the thing that makes them diverse! They’re not meant to be a simple afterthought to help your book sell. They need to be well written human beings. All it takes is a little research for authors to express diverse characters truthfully. Wonderful post.

    Helia @ Rose Quartz Reads recently posted: Why diversity across all forms of fiction is so important to me